In nearly every episode of HBO’s Watchmen we’ve been given a different central character, each with their own unique perspective and set of experiences: a black female police officer in Tulsa in her 40s, born in Vietnam, who dresses up in a nun’s outfit to fight crime; a 70-year-old white female FBI agent, who lived through the end of the glory days of costumed adventurers and is one of the few people on the planet who knew the truth behind 11/2; a middle-aged white man born in Oklahoma who has lived nearly his entire life in fear of an extradimensional monster that he only just recently discovered was no more than a hoax.
In Episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being,” we’re offered a fourth perspective, that of a man whose life encompasses them all: Will Reeves, who witnessed the racist destruction of his town in 1921, and who later joined the New York City police force in search of creating justice, only to find his colleagues just as corrupt and prejudiced as the villains who inspired his call to duty in the first place. We finally learn that Will Reeves was the first person to put on a mask and take matters into his own hands as the vigilante Hooded Justice.
At the end of Episode 5, Angela threw back a bottle of Nostalgia pills like a shot of tequila. She was being arrested, in the same precinct she’s worked in for years, for to her connection to the death of police chief Judd Crawford. As we find out from agent Laurie Blake, the Nostalgia pills are essentially harvested memories compacted into pill form that allow the consumer to re-experience the past. The pills were originally designed to aid older people dealing with dementia; President Redford and the FDA eventually outlawed it in the 1980s when people started getting hooked on it and overdosing. In the sixth episode, Angela is locked up in a cell just before the drugs—which contain the memories of her grandfather, Will Reeves—start kicking in.
For this week’s recap, we’re going to focus—like the sixth episode—solely on one character, Will Reeves, as we follow Angela on her journey back to 1938 and beyond to experience her grandfather’s life with her own eyes. We’ll break this apart by looking at the three significant times in his life that we’re now aware of—including a look back at the series premiere—before diving into how this all relates to the graphic novel.
The Story of Hooded Justice
The Watchmen series premiere began in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, during the Tulsa Massacre that left hundreds of African Americans dead at the hands of white Oklahomans and members of the Ku Klux Klan. The episode’s very first moments, however, are within a black and white film, Trust in the Law, which a little boy is watching alone in a movie theater as his mother sits at a piano providing musical accompaniment. Though we didn’t know it at the time the episode aired, the young boy is Will Reeves.
In the movie, a hooded man in black is chasing after a white sheriff decked out in all white clothing, and the hooded man lassoes the sheriff right outside of a church. The white churchgoers run outside, shocked and enraged by the sight of their beloved sheriff being wrapped up by the mysterious hooded figure. He twirls off his hood to reveal himself as Bass Reeves, the “Black Marshal of Oklahoma,” who informs the crowd their sheriff is a criminal who’s been stealing their cattle. Quickly, the churchgoers change their allegiance and call for the corrupt sheriff’s immediate lynching.
As sirens begin to wail outside of the movie theater, young Will recites Bass Reeves’s lines just before they appear on screen: “There will be no mob justice today. Trust in the law!”
The once flawless soundtrack quickly turns discordant, as Will’s mother loses the melody, and an explosion outside disrupts the film. Will’s father, wielding a rifle, enters the theater to retrieve his family, and together they go outside to find dozens of white men shooting down unarmed black men and women, as cars cut through the anarchy, dragging the bodies of Greenwood’s citizens through the streets.
With the help of his parents, Will escapes the horrific scene as a stowaway on a truck, which crashes just outside of the town. Everybody on the truck dies, besides Will and a baby, wrapped up in an American flag. The baby—as we find out in the sixth episode—is named June, and together, she and Will eventually leave Tulsa behind for New York City.
Years later, Will Reeves can still recite every line from Trust in the Law, and Bass Reeves still serves as his greatest inspiration.
1938–40s: New York
Angela’s Nostalgia-induced trip begins in New York City, in 1938, on the day her grandfather graduated from the police academy and received his officer’s badge. The world has faded to black and white, as Angela experiences her grandfather’s past, and we find her sitting onstage among rows of white police officers about to receive their badges. After the camera pans off of Angela for a moment, who’s wearing a police uniform, it returns to show Will Reeves sitting in her place. Even before receiving his badge, Will is already being treated differently than his fellow officers; he’s skipped by the white chief during the ceremony so a black officer, Lieutenant Battle, could pin the badge to his suit instead. Battle eerily whispers to Reeves: “Beware of the Cyclops.”
At some point between 1921 and 1938, Will left Tulsa to escape his past, but as June—now his wife—tells him, his desire to run from that trauma is the reason why he entered the police force to get a gun in his hands, and why he is so “goddamned angry.”
On one of his first patrols, Will comes across a strange man who throws a molotov cocktail through the window of a delicatessen. Will tracks him down and takes him into the precinct, only to be called a “spook” by the arsonist and accused of being a liar. A white officer approaches, calls for the arsonist to apologize to Reeves, before making a hand gesture to the booking officer and taking the suspect away (the signal, as we soon find out, is the sign of the Cyclops group). The very next day, Reeves is reading a comic book as the arsonist—already a free man—bumps right past him.
Will returns to the precinct to ask the booking officer why the clearly guilty arsonist was freed and about the meaning of the hand gesture, but he’s warned to keep quiet and mind his business if he doesn’t want a bullet in his head. On his way home from work that night, Will is followed by three white officers in a patrol car who beat him, tie him up, and throw a hood over his head before dragging him to a tree.
The cops begin to lynch Reeves, going as far as hanging him for several seconds before finally cutting him down and telling him to “keep [his] black nose out of white folks’ business.”
As Will walks home, still wearing a noose around his neck and holding the hood in his hands, he hears a scream in a nearby alley and sees a group of men assaulting a man and a woman. Looking down at the hood in his hands, Will rips out cloth for eyeholes, puts on the hood, and charges into the alley to fight off the assailants, which he does with ease.
The next day, June shows Will how his acts of heroism appeared in the paper, and asks him why he put on the mask before stopping the crime. When he concedes that he’s not sure, she brings up the film that he loved as a child, Trust in the Law. He retells the film’s ending, mentioning the hooded figure in black capturing the corrupt sheriff, and the white townspeople’s cheers when he unveils himself to be marshal Bass Reeves. Together, Will and June decide that this alternate identity—Hooded Justice—is how Will is going to make a difference in society. “You ain’t gonna get justice with a badge, Will Reeves,” June tells Will, as she applies white makeup around his eyes to conceal the true color of his skin. “You’re gonna get it with that hood. And if you want to stay a hero, townsfolk gonna need to think one of their own’s under it.”
As Hooded Justice, Will begins to take on the mystery behind the Cyclops group. He tracks down the arsonist, Fred, who owns a market that has a back room for KKK members to hang out in. There, he finds a book entitled “Mesmerism for the Masses,” as well as a map that has several cities marked as targets. As time passes and Will gets deeper and deeper into the conspiracy, he discovers that the Cyclops group has designed technology that can hypnotize entire audiences, something he sees first-hand while on police duty when he shows up to the aftermath of a riot that took place in a movie theater in Harlem. The technology is disseminated through a projection system, a flickering light that functions as mind control that the group of white supremacists are using to turn black people against each other to essentially create black-on-black violent crimes.
Finally fed up with the police, and with the Minutemen (more on them in a bit), Will tracks the projectors to a warehouse, shoots everyone inside, and burns down the building, leaving with one of the projectors for him to study further. When he returns home, he finds his son—only a few years old now—standing before a mirror, putting on Will’s white Hooded Justice makeup. Horrified, Will forcefully tries removing it from his son’s face, and June intervenes, before declaring that she’s taking their child and leaving him to return to Tulsa. Through tears, she claims that while she thought that being Hooded Justice would help alleviate the rage that’s always lived inside Will, it’s only magnified it. As the New York City section of the flashback comes to a close, Will is left alone in his apartment with one of the Cyclops projectors and his Hooded Justice noose.
Still under the influence of Nostalgia, Angela returns to the night of chief Crawford’s death. Will is now 105 years old, and he’s sitting in a wheelchair on the side of a road, carrying a flashlight and a noose with him, waiting for Judd Crawford to drive over the spikes he’s laid out. Crawford falls right into the trap, and as he steps out of his car to look for what just slashed through his tires, Will turns on his flashlight and aims it directly at Crawford, shining a strobe light of flickering beams on the police chief’s face. Will—possibly with the help of Lady Trieu—has taken the same technology that the Cyclops organization had used decades earlier to mesmerize black audiences and adapted it into a more portable form. Will mesmerizes Crawford and leads him to a nearby tree, where he turns the light off to hear Crawford’s last words. “Whatever you think I did, you don’t understand,” Crawford says to Reeves. “I’m trying to fucking help you people. You don’t know what’s really happening here.” Reeves reminds Crawford of the Klan robe that sits in Crawford’s closet at home. Crawford defends the robe as being his grandfather’s and therefore a part of his legacy. “You don’t know me, old man,” he says with a smirk.
“Oh yeah, I know you,” Reeves responds, making the same Cyclops gesture he’d seen white NYPD officers use decades earlier. He turns the flashlight on and delivers one final, lethal line: “Alright, you can hang yourself now.” The chief stares into the light blankly, before taking the noose and accepting Reeves’s last demand. As Angela—in Reeves’s body—watches Crawford hang himself, earlier memories begin to mix into her surroundings, as past voices and images take shape all at once. Angela’s Nostalgia-induced sleep comes to an end, and she wakes up to find herself no longer in the care of agent Laurie Blake, but now in a bed in Lady Trieu’s facility, with the trillionaire herself sitting right beside her. A massive tube is connected to Angela’s forearm, and Lady Trieu looks up from her book as she notices her guest’s awakening. “Oh, hi there,” Trieu says, as she closes her book. “Welcome back.”
It’s unclear how much time has passed since Angela went under, but she now finds herself right at the heart of the vast and insidious conspiracy at play in Tulsa. Everything her grandfather previously said to her back at her bakery—about the skeletons in chief Crawford’s closet and the fact that he killed Crawford—has turned out to be true. But despite all the answers we receive in Reeves’s origin story, per Watchmen tradition, only leave more questions in their place. Reeves killing Crawford, a member of the Seventh Kavalry, puts him and likely his ally, Lady Trieu, at odds with Senator Keene and his group of white supremacists—but how are the two parties connected, and why do their respective ominous plans for Tulsa appear to be working on the same schedule? Remember, Lady Trieu and Will Reeves are counting down the days to a big event relating to the towering Millennium Clock, and Keene and the Kavalry are messing around with portals and are gearing up for what sounds like the next apocalyptic 11/2-style Doomsday.
Angela’s grandfather is not far away—he’s still probably at the Trieu facility as well. And now that Angela has experienced so much of what he has, she knows exactly what his motives are.
Shortly after the news of the mysterious hooded figure fighting crime in New York broke, more costumed vigilantes began following in Will Reeves’s footsteps. Will and June are approached by a man named Nelson Gardner, who claims to be a representative of the vigilante Captain Metropolis when he arrives at their apartment (though even June figures out that Gardner is Metropolis within minutes of meeting him). Gardner says that Captain Metropolis has discerned that—by cross-referencing Hooded Justice’s known locations with the patrol routes of local police—officer Will Reeves has been feeding Hooded Justice intelligence about criminal activity, and that Metropolis is interested in recruiting Hooded Justice to their new vigilante group called the Minutemen.
In the very next scene, we see Gardner and Will having sex in Gardner’s apartment. Gardner—who was well aware that Reeves was Hooded Justice, but withheld that knowledge in front of June—explains to Will that the group needs Hooded Justice to legitimize their entire superhero operation. As Will quickly finds out, the entire group is no more than a big publicity stunt. Gardner seems to be doing it all for thrills, and at a press conference introducing Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis cuts off Will’s speech as he begins to discuss what he knows about the Cyclops organization. Metropolis is more concerned with defeating a crime boss named “Moloch the Magnificent” (“Moloch the Mystic” in the comic), and promoting National Bank—the sponsor of one of the group’s superheroes, Dollar Bill. When Will calls Metropolis for backup just before entering the Cyclops warehouse, Gardner tells him that his conspiracy theories about mind control sound absurd and that he needs to “solve black unrest” all on his own. It turns out that the Minutemen were no more help to Reeves than the police.
The Minutemen play an important role in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel, as they were the first vigilantes before the likes of Ozymandias, Rorschach, the second Nite Owl, and the second Silk Spectre (Laurie Blake) ushered in a new generation of crimefighters. But as the Comedian tells Gardner and the Crimebusters—the aforementioned vigilante group that followed the Minutemen—vigilantes are, for the most part, just fools dressed up in costumes.
Captain Metropolis, the Comedian, as well as the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are the more prominent members of the group in the comics; the most mysterious member is Hooded Justice.
Unlike most of the other vigilantes, Hooded Justice’s origins and disappearance are left open-ended in the comics, and so Damon Lindelof and the HBO series’ writers hijacked his story line and tied it right into the heart of the plot of the TV show. American Hero Story, the show-within-the-show, purposefully misdirected the audience away from Hooded Justice’s true origins—using the accounts of the original Nite Owl’s autobiography as source material—so the story of Will Reeves could fit neatly in its place. Hooded Justice disappeared in the comics some time in the 1950s, and the public assumed he died when a circus strongman named Rolf Müller washed up on the coast of Boston at the same time of his disappearance.
We know now that Hooded Justice never died, but it’s still unclear what happened to him after the end of the superhero era. We do know that he got his hands on mind-control technology, and decades later, he’s positioned himself to finally bring justice to the city that killed his entire family nearly a century earlier.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.